Thursday, December 23, 2010

American Eagle Outfitters - Mission Statement

Here's another example of a mission statement being either too long or absent: American Eagle Outfitters.

American Eagle has a clearly defined set of "corporate values" which guides the actions of employees at all levels of the AE organization:

The vitality of our company resides in our people. We collaborate, we engage, we achieve.

We hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards. In the face of difficulties and challenges, we don't compromise.

Our passion infuses our actions and purpose. It transforms stores into places of energy and customer delight

We operate in a dynamic and competitive industry. We continually refine the unique processes that drive our business, and we use insightful research and analysis to balance our instinct and to guide our decisions. Our associates embody entrepreneurial spirit, develop creative solutions, and initiate change.

We work together - listening to one another, reaching consensus and supporting group decisions. We celebrate achievements. Because we respect and trust one another and commit ourselves to our company goals, our teamwork succeeds.

Additionally American Eagle has a service goal that guides employees in their everyday retailing tasks:

"We respond to the needs of our customer and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done."

I'm underwhelmed.  You guys knew I would be, right?  Admittedly, this isn't a mission statement, but a set of values.  And that is the problem—there is no definable mission statement, and hence no one big idea, passion, or goal to drive the business.

So what we have to work with are these corporate values.  Let's bypass people, integrity, and teamwork, because those belong in every company's corporate values, and focus instead on passion and innovation, because they are where this company could set itself apart.

Passion - what is American Eagle passionate about?  If I had to define it, I'd say that this should read something like "We are passionate about providing on-trend, highly desirable clothes, accessories and personal care items at affordable prices to teens, millennials, and kids."   This brand proposition could then become their mission statement, because it's this passion that becomes the mission that drives their business.

Innovation - this I see as the implementation of the mission statement I've just defined.  Consider this statement: Our associates embody entrepreneurial spirit, develop creative solutions, and initiate change.  Great!  Why do they do this?  To provide on-trend, highly desirable products to their audience.  See how that works?

The whole point I'm trying to make here is that everything needs to flow from one, big, easily graspable idea that everyone who works there can get passionate about and commit to.  American Eagle Outfitters isn't doing so hot compared to other brands that have a more defined brand and strategy, like Urban Outfitters.  In 2009, UO had a 5.6% increase in revenue, as compared to AE's 0.5%, and same store sales growth was up 7.8% for UO vs. -4%.  That's problematic.

I don't know how quantifiable having a strong mission statement vs. not having one is, in terms of success, but if it works for wars and elections, it probably has a strong correlation in commerce.  What drives us are the causes we can get behind, the battle cries we remember, the mantras that become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that they're nearly pre-cognitive.  This isn't that.  It should be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Beers

Two very different types of beer packaging for the same kind of beer customer: who will take the win?

First up: Rialto Premium Lager

Very designed, vintage appeal, strong Mayan iconography.  This design is by Stranger & Stranger, a design firm that specializes in packaging for wine, beer, and spirits.  They say "San Salvador is known for its Mayan Temples and sun worship."

Well, it's pretty.  If I were a Corona drinker looking for something fancy, I'd probably pick this up.  So far, reviews haven't been great, but at least you'd have something fun to bring to a party.

Next up: Black Label Beer and Red Label Beer from Bavarian Brewing

Also well-designed, and has strong vintage appeal.  It also seems a lot more masculine at first blush—much more rough and tumble. I can't locate where I found this one, but it seems like a straightforward design with mass appeal. I could see my grandpa drinking this; I could also see a dude in a plaid shirt with beat-up Nike dunks drinking it.

When I first sat down to write this, what I was going to say is that these beers are both designed for a younger, affluent, design-conscious male consumer. I was going to declare Bavarian Brewing's beers the winner, based on how I think both designs will be received. But now, I don't know.

The artistic, illustrative nature of the Rialto packaging could really appeal to a female audience, so while this might not be a win for the dudes, it could be for the ladies. But was that Stranger & Stranger's intent? I don't know. I know it's my own gender bias, but I'd design beer packaging with men in mind. I can't call this a win unless I know who they were designing it for, and that's what makes this one so interesting. It's unclear who they thought their audience was. And maybe that's the issue—it's a little cloudy from start to finish.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Circuit City - Mission Statement

Circuit City is the next brand mission statement I'm evaluating.  Since Circuit City went bankrupt and liquidated in 2009, that casts an interesting light on this analysis.  The credit crisis has caused a lot of businesses to go under, but Circuit City also had a bunch of mismanagement and poor decisions—laying off salespeople and not staying current with the tech industry. That latter one is anathema for an electronics retailer. The business of electronics retailing has moved primarily online, and Circuit City did not, at the time of close, have much to offer in sales opportunities on the web. And after laying off their sales people, the question becomes: where are you selling your product?

I suspect that's in large part why their business failed—they weren't selling. They weren't where their customers were (online), and they also were pretty half-assed about where their customers weren't (in their stores), so it's not difficult to make that leap to a conclusion on why they shut their doors.

Let's take a look at their mission statement:

"To make sure that we are all working in the same direction, each of us must live and breathe Circuit City's values and use them as a guidepost for our actions and decisions."

To further clarify that mission to all of its employees, the company outlined its corporate values in detail...

Our Associates are our greatest assets. We expect every Associate to demonstrate that they respect and value others for their efforts, their knowledge, and the diversity that they bring.

We are a product of our experiences and those around us can benefit from our lessons learned. Pass on to others what you value and learn.

What's in it for you? We foster an environment of engagement where associates are invested and involved in the future of the company. What you do matters.

Use your fresh perspective to look, ask, and learn. We never stop looking at the way we approach our business and ways to simplify processes.

Maintain the highest integrity
We expect all of our associates to maintain the highest of ethical standards. Our integrity must never be compromised. Integrity is the foundation onto which all other values are placed."

Yawn.  And what?  Nowhere in this does it say "We want to hit electronic sales out of the park like Renteria in the seventh inning.  We want to wipe our competition off our boots.  We want to develop a cutting-edge, contemporary website that allows our customers to find and buy what they're looking for efficiently.  We want to make Best Buy look like your grandpa's radio store."

There's no plan in here for success.  This doesn't sound like a competitive plan, or even one that will meet with any success.  It's entirely elementary.  Respect, education, engagement, simplification, and integrity are all great values, but I'd expect to see them at any company.  What will set Circuit City apart?

Apparently, not enough.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Understory Chocolatiers

Another piece of eye candy from Lovely Package, this was done by Mark Johnson, when he was a student at SCAD:

It's chocolate packaging for Understory, a chocolatier that harvests their own cacao beans from South America and takes great care with the chocolate making process from start to finish.  A brand with that much care to detail deserves packaging that shows the same craftsmanship, and Mark definitely delivered.

This is a knockout brand for men—the ticking used looks a lot like business shirt fabric. Plus, the classic styling ties in very well with the vintage speakeasy craze.  It has broad gift appeal too, which is a plus.  I like it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Disney - Mission Statement

I have a love/hate relationship with Disney.  I really disapprove of what they're trying to do with copyright law, but I also loved visiting Disneyland as a child and generally speaking, I think of Disney as Big Fun.

One of the things I like most is that the Disney experience is all-encompassing.  If you visit a theme park, you'll note that every detail is meticulously looked after.  Everything from the cobblestones to the water fountains is considered.  I love that.  It allows me to get completely lost in the experience, leave the real world behind, and tap into being a kid.

You pay a pretty price for that of course, but that's no different from any other kind of escapism.  And heck, escaping to being a kid again and having fun?  Yes please!  So much healthier for the psyche than other types of fun I could go into.

Disney's mission statement is:

"The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world."

I actually disagree a bit with that "Disney as a leading producer of information" part.  Their stance on copyright is kind of at odds with that aim.  They certainly have an educational component, but entertainment vastly outstrips it.

However, I do think "creative, innovative, and profitable" sums up Disney very, very well.  Who they want to be is very much in keeping with who they are, and that's translated into big dividends for them.

But don't take my word for it.  What do you think?

Emblemist: Yes
Readers: ?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Seventh Generation

Taking a break from my Mission Statement series for some pretty packaging.  This is student work via Lovely Package, one of my favorite blogs.  The project was to design packaging for personal hygiene items for Seventh Generation:

Hygiene products are typically not very sexy, but this packaging is kinda sexy because it doesn't try to make hygiene flowery or overly precious.  It's utilitarian, but also bright and appealing.  The designer, Johana Tran, says:
“The package design utilizes sustainable materials, while maintaining a hygienic appeal, ensuring a product that users can trust to be safe for both the environment and the body. Tampons are packaged in individual molded paper pulp packs of 5, featuring a quick dispense method for convenience, while also offering the advantages of being easily portable and discreet. Pads are packaged in a sturdy paper pulp box. Toilet paper is packaged in a reusable biodegradable bag and the toilet cleaner features a hygienic hideaway nozzle.”
It's eco-friendly, in keeping with Seventh Generation's core values.  It also appeals to their demographic of value and quality-conscious shoppers who care about design and minimizing packaging. 

I don't think I've ever been this excited about feminine hygiene or toilet cleaner.  There's something to be said for that.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Limited Brands - Mission Statement

Next up on my roster of big brands for mission statement evaluation is Limited Brands.  Limited Brands encompasses Victoria's Secret, Henri Bendel, La Senza, C.O. Bigelow and Bath & Body Works.  Their mission statement is:

"Limited Brands is committed to building a family of the world's best fashion brands offering captivating customer experiences that drive long-term loyalty and deliver sustained growth for our shareholders."

So let me get this straight: Limited's main goal is to be... captivating? Well, okay.  In a retail context, that makes sense: you want to charm and engage your customer, because they're far more likely to stay and spend money.  But some of these brands are more of a success in this experience than others.

Henri Bendel—yes.  Henri Bendel is one of the most luxurious retailers in the United States.  Going to Henri Bendel is a captivating experience.  Victoria's Secret... you've got me there.  Their commercials, fashion shows, and in-store branding captivate me.  It's hard not to be captivated by lingerie and the women modeling it.  La Senza is a Canadian chain, so I can't say if they're captivating, but they're also a high-end lingerie retailer, so my  money's on yes.

Captivate just seems like a weird word though for Bath & Body Works, a brand that started out looking like a farm stand.

Since its acquisition it's gotten more upscale, but I wouldn't call it captivating.  Have you been in a Bath & Body Works lately?  It's homogenized and weird, and the scents, in my opinion, have more chemical overtones.  I actually kind of miss the old Bath & Body Works for their clarity of vision and old-skool charm.  The scents weren't complex, but there's a childhood comfort in the Apples scent that I loved.

That brand felt friendly, and everything from the packaging to the retail merchandising formed a cohesive vision of what it was meant to be—quirky, homey, non-intimidating.  I think something was lost in trying to create a "captivating" experience.  As it turns out, however, not everyone agrees with me.  Sales are up in the 3rd quarter for Bath & Body Works, with a 6% gain over prior year sales.  That could be the economy recovering, or it could be the continued growth of a great brand.  It's hard to say, but for my part, I still think Bath & Body Works fails to offer a captivating experience because I'm not charmed by it, nor do I want to spend my money there.

What do you think?

Emblemist: Yes for Bendel/Victoria's Secret, No for Bath & Body Works
Readers: ?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Target - Mission Statement

In this post, I talked about why it's vital to start your branding strategy with a strong mission statement to rally behind. has an article with mission statements from several retail giants, and I thought it would be fun to do a little debating over whether we think these brands have lived up to their brand promise. 

The first one up: Target

Target's mission/vision statement is:

"Our mission is to make Target the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and an exceptional guest experience by consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less.® brand promise. To support our mission, we are guided by our commitments to great value, the community, diversity and the environment."

First up is value.  I think Target delivers on value.  Are they the lowest prices on the block?  Not always.  Walmart and other discounters can deal a price smackdown now and again.  But where Target stands alone is innovation.  They were the first big box retailer to partner with contemporary and progressive designers to create low-price versions of high-brow concepts.  Michael Graves did their first line; now they work with Stella McCartney, Tucker, and Dwell Studio.  They've also developed a food category, a higher-end boutique beauty section, and have an eco-friendly focus.  Target wins on innovation, hands-down.

Exceptional guest experience is tough.   Target is well-organized, bright, and usually clean.  The checkers tend to be pretty nice, though the dressing rooms could really use some work.  However, I vastly prefer shopping at Target to many other discount retailers.  I like that they've partnered with Starbuck's.  It gives them an edge.  And I do think they're playing the "upscale experience for a downscale price" game solidly well.  So I'd agree.  Target is living up to their mission statement.

Emblemist:  Yes
Readers: ?

What do you think?  Does Target live up to its mission statement in your experience?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brands Are Built

One of the things I think about a lot is brand success indicators—how likely it is that a brand will succeed, and what components make success likely.  Brand Channel has a great article on this, Successful Start-Ups Launch with a Brand, that delineates why they think some brands thrive and some fail.  The key seems to be to start early and build your brand from the ground up.
One of the biggest misperceptions that companies have is that branding begins when the firm has money and can hire an expert. The most successful companies consider branding from the moment the business is just a kernel of an initial idea. When Joe Smith says he is starting a company and his buddies ask what business he is starting, this is where the concept and the establishment of a brand should begin: in his answer," explains Ed Gyurko, founder of Brand Illumination, a New York-based industry analyst and investor relations consulting firm.
Your brand should infuse every element of your business, because your brand is your word.  You have to start with a plan and answer some deep questions about the purpose behind your product.  Does your product or service fill a need?  Does that need have a wide enough market to support your business?  How exactly and how well does your product or service fill that need?  And (in my mind) most importantly, how do you plan to communicate your product or service as a solution to your potential clients and customers?

It's vital that you consider these things up front.  The most successful businesses have answers to these questions, and every step they take in developing their brand supports their mission statement, their answers to those questions above, from the name to the logo to the collateral.  It has to be cohesive, concise, and clear in order to win.
A brand is not a commodity that successful companies can buy. A successful brand is a highly valued asset that the best companies build – for themselves, for their customers and the markets that they serve. The most successful companies began the process of building their brand long before they first opened their doors to do business.
And of course a snappy logo, a punchy slogan, and a stunning celebrity endorsement doesn't hurt either.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Back from a posting hiatus, due to the holidays and post-holiday digestive coma.

Full admission: I find scars both bad-ass and also kind of icky.  It's awesome when you inspire the comment, "What does the other guy look like?", but at the same time, the puckery weird skin and the raised bumpiness are not so much my thing.  And with kids and stretchmarks and all the rest coming into play, it's great that there's a product that helps diminish the appearance of scars.

I've heard good things about Mederma.  Everyone who's ever talked about it has had a good experience.  I haven't tried it personally; the scar on my lip, a holdover from my orthodontist, is pretty sick, but if the advertising is anything to go off of, this product is a winner.

Straight up: this is a product to fix you, but it's about fixing something that (arguably) is actually wrong.  Scars are damaged tissue, and this is a clinical product to fix it. That's a step up from all the products that are meant to fix things that aren't wrong with you.   Further, all of these women look happy and giggly and downright delightful.  They're not embarrassed about their scars!  And best of all, they have normal bodies, but are also considered pretty conventionally attractive.  Exciting!  Scars, bellies, and happy ladies all in one commercial.

There's a conversation we could have about embracing yourself, flaws and all, but I do have to point out that as fixer upper products go, this is tame.  Some people have pretty extreme scars that make them feel uncomfortable.  This isn't the same thing as skin whitening cream or something with similarly racist overtones.  It isn't even to fix a genetic trait like body hair or fat cells or darker skin that's not in keeping with traditional beauty standards.  Everyone gets beat up by life.  Scars are equal opportunity.  And if it makes you feel better to minimize them and you can giggle and be happy about that, then I say go ahead.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Last Thursday, I put on my fancy party tights and took myself out to the Anthology Magazine launch party.  Anthology is a new lifestyle magazine put out by Anh-Minh Le, with Meg Mateo Ilasco (of Craft, Inc.) as Creative Director.  It's glorious—a total visual treat.  Since Blueprint got shut down and Domino bit the dust, I've been looking for a magazine that taps in to the contemporary girl's design-oriented spirit, and this is just the magazine.

The launch party at West Elm was a whole lot of classy fun.  Some really incredible women were there.  Anh-Minh and Maggie Mason, two of my favorites, were kind enough to chat with me.  There were delicious cocktails and coffee options, circulating cookies and treats, and best of all, Smilebooth was in attendance!

My fantastic new friend Elka of Casa Sugar posed with me, along with the super-stylin' Ashley Meaders:

There's me in the middle of the sandwich of awesome.  And the pictures get funnier from there.  They're all up at the Smilebooth site, just click on California.  We're at the top of the page.

Thanks for a swell night Anthology!  Everyone else, subscribe, and soon!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Billboard Advertising... Nothing?

On the U.S./Canadian border near Vancouver, there's now a billboard that's made of nothing but air.

From Fast Company's design blog:
Clearly it’s some kind of pinko Canadian stunt, right? A passive-aggressive commentary on Americans’ conspicuous consumption? Wrong! Non-Sign II is the brainchild of the Seattle art and architecture firm Lead Pencil Studio. Even crazier: It was commissioned by the federal government, which usually regards high art the way one would a dead rat.

The sculpture's purpose is to promote the benefits of clean air, comment on the widespread nature of consumption, and according to Brandflakes, asks us to consider a less cluttered world.  I think it's just cool that there's dead space in the middle of a highly-traveled landscape.  It interrupts one's schema because it's so unexpected.

I have a love/hate relationship with advertising, though it's mostly love.  When done well, it can illuminate and refine our desires, our passions, our values.  When done badly, however, it feels like the static that surrounds this billboard, defining even more sharply how good some clear space feels.

Friday, November 5, 2010

GE Lightbulbs

I absolutely love this student work from Kevin Kwok that was featured on Lovely Package a couple days ago.  It's CFL lightbulb packaging.

What Kevin says about it intelligent and interesting, so I'm just going to quote him.

The redesign of General Electric CFL light bulbs is aimed to bring a friendlier shelf presence through the use of basic informative graphics. An advantage of the redesign is the ability to stack the packages together to complete the graphical form of a CFL light bulb. The top and bottom of each package might look familiar, they graphically resemble what the top and bottom of a CFL light bulb. Also something to note is each wattage has it’s own color identity.
The redesign also considered the environment, the new design is packaged with post consumer cardboard rather than calm shell plastic. This ensures the use of less natural resources and therefore less impact on the environment. GE would also allow consumers to put old CFL light bulbs back in these packages and mail them back to be recycled.

If the packaging hadn't been environmentally-friendly, that would have been a huge gaffe.  I love that now we're taking into account the materials we use to construct packaging, not just the design.  Design and materials are seamlessly integrated here which is as it should be.

Friday, October 29, 2010

This Water

Another great one from Pearlfisher, This Water is a spin-off brand from the very popular Innocence natural brand in the UK.

One of the things I like most about this brand is the outright call for distinction: by calling it This Water, you automatically put distance between it and other brands.  There's this water, and then there's that water.  And then they put the most distinctive feature right up front too:

Fruit from the trees; this water from a spring.
this water quenches thirsts for a living.
No trucks came from the alps to bring you this water.  (Oh BURN, Evian!)
this water is made from fruit and clouds.
Cranberries for health, this water for thirst.
this water is coloured by nature. (Take that, Vitamin Water!)

See?  It's subtle but it's there.  And it brings up a really crucial point: we have very strong associations with brands—so strong, in fact, that I immediately parsed what they were trying to say with the alps and "coloured by nature" bits without them having to say anything other than a brief allusion.  Evian is so vitally linked with the alps that This Water couldn't mean anything else by that quote about the alps.  I don't even like bottled water and I got it right off.

Our connection to brands is nearly pre-cognitive.  We are influenced and shaped by factors that we may not even recognize straight off.  I'm sure this is probably alarming to some, but I find it fascinating.  It brings up a question that I don't have an answer to yet:
Where does the line of responsibility fall: towards the consumer (to be conscious and wary of brand messaging) or to the brand (to be ethical and trustworthy when it comes to that messaging)? 

Friday, October 15, 2010


Quick Friday post for eye candy (almost literally).  Moonstruck Chocolate is a neat Portland-based chocolate company.  I've heard that their products are swell, and I liked the look of their site.  Their logo is pretty cool too—it's a hunky muscled dude playing a lute on a crescent moon, and who doesn't like a lute-playing hunk on a moon?  But what really blew me away was their chocolate bar packaging.

Gorgeous, right?  It's the perfect blend of reference to the origins of the chocolate with a current and relevant design.  Kate Forrester, an illustrator and typographer from the UK designed it.

Way to go Moonstruck!  Now, someone get me a peanut butter & jelly eyeball truffle won't you?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

J Me

Jamie Oliver, well-known British chef, restaurateur and media personality, launched a new brand of housewares and food products in 2009.  The brand is J Me, and Pearlfisher was responsible for the creation of a strategy, logo, brand identity, corporate identity, structural design, secondary packaging, tone of voice, naming, pack and web copy.

Jamie's fans and customers share a few things in common:
- They have a relaxed, well-designed lifestyle
- They care about where their food and everyday items come from and want to have some kind of relationship with the creator
- They trend younger and a bit quirky, like Jamie

Jamie's lifestyle brand had to reflect Jamie's own aesthetic, which is clean, sustainable, and youthful.  Jamie places a lot of emphasis on healthy, local, no frills ingredients in his own cooking, hence the premise of his initial TV show: The Naked Chef.  This commitment to sustainable eating and clean flavors in his work translates into the design of his lifestyle and food products.

The packaging is incredible simple and very homegrown—casual and inviting, like Jamie himself. Part of Jamie's appeal is that he isn't fussy. He makes cooking seem simple and populist. 

This condiment packaging looks friendly, like your pal Jamie whipped up that lemon curd in your kitchen and scrawled out a label before popping it into your fridge.  There's something really powerful about that for an aspirational brand.  People will buy these products because they want to cook like Jamie and, moreover, because they are invested in having the kind of life Jamie Oliver has: simple, unfussy, but also clever, creative, and chic.

To further that objective, Jamie worked with well-known, current designers to create beautiful artisan products at several different price points within the line.  Even though there's quite a bit of variety, all of the products fit his brand: they're sustainable, unique, and clean in design.  You can watch Jamie talking about his line here. 

Pearlfisher created over 170 skus for this line and their work on the brand was a Gold Cannes Lions winner for 2009.  High praise.  You can see why I like them.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Umi means "sea" in Japanese.  I love this packaging because it's sleek, modern, but still warm.  So much of contemporary design can feel like office furniture. 

Umi also has interesting ingredients: cardamom, lotus flower, and oat ceramide among them.  The packaging states clearly what they are, what they're for, and what they should do.  I love it.  Super pretty without being overblown or overly feminine.  I could easily see this carried in a spa or luxe hotel.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why You Should Care About Branding, Part 1

With several posts now under my belt, it's time to address the question: why another blog?  And for that matter, why this one?

In 2008, I was at a crossroads.  I'd been working in publishing since 2004, the year I'd arrived in New York to start a career in that field.  I loved books and words and the literary world, but the long arm of technology had begun to corrode the production of the written word, especially when it came to job prospects.  I felt stuck: I'd always gravitated toward design, but the job I was stuck in during that time offered very few opportunities in that area.  I wanted to feel that sting—the elusive prick of whatever is between inspiration and practicality.  I wanted a career that would be both sensible and creative.  It might be said that I've always wanted a perfect union between the imagination of form and utility of function.

What ended up happening is that I attended a conference on collecting marketing data.  The keynote speaker gave a talk on the importance of branding, and quite simply, I was hooked.  The only thing I really remember about it was an example he gave about Apple computers.  It seems that in the 1990s, Apple was failing (hard to believe given the current climate).  One of the major things that turned Apple around was their now iconic television commercial.

The message is: if you buy our computer, you are a visionary.  You are different and special and like Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Bob Dylan, because you don't buy normal computers, you buy Apple: the computer for geniuses and eccentrics.

The most revolutionary thing about this ad is that they never show their product.  Not once during the ad is a computer shown, not even for a second.  The commercial is completely affiliation-driven.  If you buy our computer, you can group yourself in with the leaders of our modern age.  Powerful stuff.

The best part is that it worked.  Apple's stock recovered and it began its meteoric rise to tech domination.  Granted, a lot of other factors contributed to this beyond a commercial: the packaging design (sleek, uniform and very modern), the user-friendly element, the cutting edge technology, the mythology surrounding Steve Jobs (perhaps a bit of a visionary and eccentric himself).  However, what all those elements have in common is that they all fit under the banner of the mission statement illustrated in that commercial: Think Different.

Apple regrouped and made every action they took abide by their brand.  Apple is for people who are creative, inspiring, a bit revolutionary.  Apple is for people who think differently.  Apple is now a top tier brand, world-renowned, and has achieved cult status in the upper pantheon of tech.  Thinking differently leads to big dividends.

This classic example got me all fired up.  If branding could do that for Apple, what could that mean for other brands, products—people, even. What could it do for worthwhile causes?

My inner geek started to fire. Could it be that some of the world's problems might be solved by better communication about what we do and why it matters? Because that is what branding is: communication of identity and purpose.

Better branding means that we get what we need faster.  Better design means that we realize something will fill our need faster.  We make better choices when the purpose and function of a product or service is communicated effectively.  Better design, communication, and branding equals better form, and better form means better function.

And that's what this blog aims to explore—how form and function interplay to create branding that works or doesn't.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What You See Is What You Get

To create instant visual recognition, depict the interior product on the outside of the packaging.  It sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many people sacrifice that click of recognition in the service of a pithy concept that ultimately falls flat if the packaging is unclear.

I talked in my last post about how desire got lost in the abstract design of the Terra Kunza packaging, and then, as a counterpoint, how the Naga bar persuaded the customer to give an avant-garde food a try by including a well-styled photo of the ingredients.

Another approach to creating product recognition is using illustration.  Take a look at this quail egg packaging:

It's clean, functional, modern, and pretty cute.  Quail's eggs aren't a weird food, especially in the Czech Republic (which is where this originates), but they're speckled and a bit ungainly. The illustration connects us with the edibility of the egg—it makes it familiar, comfortable.  (via Lovely Package)

Obviously, this works better with conventional foods (have you ever tried to draw Chicken Paprikash?), but this concept actually performs ingeniously when you're going for visual recognition with an indistinguishable food.

This is Pearlfisher for the Jamie Oliver line.  I have a whole post of love coming about that line and the J Me brand.  In this particular example, spreads are given a very simple but effective treatment.  Each label shows the primary ingredient of each spread as an iconic stamp, creating visual connection.

This is especially important with products like sauces and spreads because it's difficult if not impossible to figure out what they are without some kind of call out.  Because this packaging is so visually effective, you don't really even need words (though the typography is awesome).

Keep it simple, keep it clean.  Visual recognition is vital.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fancy Packaging Won't Always Save You

I can't remember where I first saw this Terra Kunza cookie packaging, probably Lovely Package, but while it is indeed a lovely package, I am unimpressed. 

Terra Kunza is a line of high-end cookies, made from non-traditional ingredients like quinoa and olive oil.  They're taking a page from the current trend of incorporating eccentric ingredients into haute cuisine, a la Vosges chocolate.  I think Vosges does this well; I'm not so sure about Terra Kunza.  And the worst part is that I don't even want to try their product at first glance, because nothing about the packaging entices me.

Please don't misunderstand: it's very pretty and it absolutely says high-end to me.  What it doesn't say is delicious.

Food packaging should look delicious.  If it doesn't look delicious, it should be approachable at the very least.  This packaging is too abstract, too floral.  I don't want to pick up the product and take a bite out of it.  Even worse, I can't tell from first glance what the product even is.  That's a sin.

On the box it says "Quinoa and Oregano Cookies."  So far, I'm really not excited about it.  If the picture was the cookies and they looked enticing (or bizarre, even), I'd probably give this a shot.  Heck, I gave the Naga chocolate bar a shot, and it's got curry powder in it.  But, you see, the packaging for the Naga bar looks like this:

Is the Naga bar comprised of some unusual ingredients that one might consider unappealing at first glance?  Yes.  But look at the packaging!  There's the sensuous chocolate, the flakes of sweet coconut, the non-intimidating sprinkle of curry spice.  I can see exactly what I'm getting into, which takes away my resistance.

Ultimately, that's what you want in a new product: people willing to try it.  Hopefully they love it and spread the word.  The packaging gets in the way here, which makes this a miss.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When Design Solves Problems

The most successful kind of package design is one that solves a problem while appealing to its intended audience.  If you've got the latter down, you're in the game, but the former is where you can really take your design above and beyond.

Neal Fletcher, a student designer in the UK, was asked to design a concept for a difficult item to package.  He chose spaghetti.

via Lovely Package: "We were asked to choose one of five difficult objects to package, I chose spaghetti. I wanted to address a problem I always have when cooking spaghetti, that problem being that I always use too much. So I somehow wanted to build something into the packaging that aided portion control, so I came up with this Hexagonal Prism, 6 sided; thus there are six servings. It’s refillable and reusable and there’s also the potential for more shapes, for example triangle: 3 servings, octagon: 8 servings etc."

I think Neal's design is fantastic: it solves a common problem, it looks modern and neat, and adaptable to nearly any brand.  Aesthetically, it could use a little work.  Pasta is warm, hearty and comforting, and Neal's color choice is a bit too industrial, too contemporary—more suited to alcohol, mens fragrance, or a hot new beverage, than pasta.  If he warmed up the palette, I think he'd have a true winner here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Real Campaign, Real Connection

Dove is a cosmetics brand, most well-known for its Campaign for Real Beauty, launched in 2004.

The Campaign for Real Beauty began as magazine spreads and billboards featuring the bodies of ordinary (i.e. non-model) women.  Different ethnicities, ages, body types and sizes were represented and  celebrated.  It was a huge eye-opener for many women, because it made their beauty visible and accepted in the public sphere.

The ladies in the ads flaunted their wrinkles, curves, skin tone, tattoos, muscles—a lot of things the beauty industry had been demanding that women cover up.  It was a pretty earth-shattering campaign and elicited a lot of buzz.

What's interesting is that Dove's parent company, Unilever, doesn't have a spotless track record when it comes to beauty ethics.  Hindustan Unilever is the maker of Fair & Lovely, a skin lightening cream.  In India, having lighter skin is equated with being of a higher caste, more attractive, and thus, more marriageable.  The ad campaign for Fair & Lovely shows a depressed darker skinned woman finding success, love, and happiness through the use of lightening skin cream.  It's been argued that this campaign reinforces racism.

It's why, by contrast, the Dove campaign is so powerful—it turns the "You have an intrinsic physical flaw.  You should feel bad about that.  Oh but here, we have the answer!  You can be happy when you shell out for this product!" message right on its ear.

Make no mistake, Dove is a for-profit company, but I like that they're making their money by convincing us of our innate beauty, rather than trying to convince us that we are inherently flawed and they have the miracle cure.  It certainly shows that there's a disconnect in priorities among the international factions of Unilever, but hey, different markets, different goals. 

The best part of all of this is that Dove has taken The Campaign for Real Beauty one step further: they're partnering with The Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club, and Girls Inc. to encourage self-esteem globally.

They have many resources on their website for girls, parents, and mentors on how to cultivate self-esteem at an early age.  You can watch videos, take workshops, and join a Dove self-esteem community.  I don't know how really in-depth or useful any of these programs are, but the content is there and the campaign does promote working against the kind of self-hatred propagated by an industry that has to convince you of your flaws so it can sell you something.

Dove gives you feeling of connection, a sense that they do actually care what you think about yourself and wants to help you maximize your own awesomeness.  And really, can we ask for much more from a brand?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Welcome to emblemist. The impetus behind this blog about brand identity is my obsession with presentation, packaging, and identity design. When I was a wee little kid, how the present came wrapped was just as important as the gift inside. Call me superficial, but packaging matters.

How you wrap something—the context in which the interior is displayed through the exterior—is more important than one might realize. First impressions are lasting, and in our frenzied society, you have bare seconds before the imprint of your identity, brand and message is set for the viewer. Developing a strong brand is crucial, vital to the success and longevity of your business.

With all this in mind, it’s my intention to explore what makes a good brand, gut feelings on particular promotions, the theories behind brand identity marketing, and the ethics of marketing and media as a whole.

To kick things off, here is my favorite find of today: froosh, design by Pearlfisher:

This is a strong, clean visual statement. Plus it’s a bit quirky, which fits with the brand’s name. The declarative statements keep it easy to understand and the colors and treatment feel friendly, bright and approachable. Plus, it looks delicious, which isn’t always easy to do with perishables. Love it.